May 23, 2014 Last Updated 8:03 am

Is the online advertising model broken for print media brands? Who says it was ever OK?

With ad dollars falling, and profits disappearing, many print media executives are wondering what happened to the promise of Internet advertising

The media world is finally getting around seriously evaluating their online media ad efforts. I suppose late is better than never, but it does beg the question of whether media executives have been deluding themselves all these years thinking they were killing it online when they really weren’t.

For the past decade and a half, media properties have been able report double digit growth in digital advertising. Of course, doubling a microscopic amount of revenue is easy, growing it in real terms is much harder.

Suddenly aware that much of the ad dollars going to online going to bogus websites, being spent on phantom impressions, or being spent but never seen, media pros are wondering it this is a game they really can win.

Let’s play a little game: type in the web address for The New York Times, but make an intentional typo and see what comes up. Why would anyone buy a URL that is a typo? I think you can answer that question.

The web is filled with websites that only exist to aggregate content and display Google AdSense advertising.

Recently I was told a story of a sales rep who made a call on a large, very large digital ad agency. Apparently this sales person was very excited, they had a great story to tell, successful results for clients, and a bag full of new things to talk about. He left disillusioned.

“All they cared about was impressions and CPMs. They wanted the most impressions at the cheapest cost. They weren’t interested at all in reaching relevant readers.”

So it goes.

As media properties have reduced their sales forces, changed their emphasis from paid advertising to paid readership, they have lost the ability to tell their story. But this doesn’t mean they have lost the business, they never had it.

A decade ago the big question being debated by publishers was whether they should have their existing print staffs sell digital advertising or create a new department to do the sales. The problem was two-fold: their print sales people didn’t understand the web, and they weren’t interested in selling something that only looked to them to be an ancillary buy. Most newspapers and magazines began by giving away the ads in exchange for securing the next year’s print schedules. Those that did create new sales departments found that it was an unsatisfying experiment due to the small dollars being produced, and the big headaches that resulted.

But at no time did print publishers kill it on the web. First, there were not may dollars to be had. And when the dollars grew, they did not go to print publishers.

I’ve always argued that when creating for another publishing platform that you must be native to that platform, that you have to understand that platform, and be able to succeed there on its own terms.

But let’s not be romantic about print, either. I’ve always found it funny that when looking at newspaper and magazine audit reports that those supermarket tabloids are often left out of the conversation. Included, they make the top lists of publication look very different, far less the way publishers like to think of their industry. But worldwide there is a lot of junk media being produced, and it sells, and it attracts advertising.

Like it or not, The Huffington Post is the number one news site not because it produces the most scoops or the best reporting, it is all that other content. It is also the number one news site because someone, somewhere decided to include it in their charts.

But if you look at the top websites by overall traffic how many of them are considered “news sites”? It turns out that The Huffington Post, the #1 news site, is the #76 site overall. Beating Arianna won’t make you #1, it makes you #76.

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